Q&A: Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev serves up revenge cold, slow in 'Dead Man Down'

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Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev (the original "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") directs his first American movie, "Dead Man Down."

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Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, 51, always had the idea to make an American movie in the back of his mind. When his 2009 film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (remade by director David Fincher two years later) became a huge success, Oplev moved to the U.S. and got the opportunity to fulfill his dream to crossover to the American film industry. In “Dead Man Down,” Oplev directs a stylish double revenge story featuring actors Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace.

How did this script land in your lap and become your first American movie?

[Screenwriter] Joel [Wyman] told me that when he was finishing up the script, he saw my film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and thought, “This is the guy that is going to do my film.” He told me this directly. I had read hundreds of scripts after I did “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but I didn’t really feel connected to any of them. But when I got [Joel’s] script in my hands I thought, “Wow, this is really exciting.” It was an exciting double revenge story with cool action and character-driven stuff.

Both “Dragon Tattoo” and “Dead Man Down” explore revenge at a methodical pace. What is it about revenge in this aspect you find interesting?

Revenge is just good drama. You have to think about what people would really do if they were put in that situation. If they get revenge, is it what they really wanted? Will it help them heal from that void or darkness that is put upon their soul from the injustice that has been done to them. That’s a really compelling and interesting theme.

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But do you think Colin Farrell’s character felt like a more slow-burn type revenge was necessary in his situation? I mean, he could have easily walked up to the man who ruined his life and simply shot him in the head or something like that.

I think dragging out the revenge is very interesting. He used to be a peaceful man, but has transformed into this kind of “Donnie Brasco” type of character. He really wants to see this man suffer.

Some people have described the film as a neo-noir. Do you agree with labeling “Dead Man Down” like that?

That’s an interesting term. I can definitely accept that. It has some of that noir, but also has an action side to it, too.

Where did you pull inspiration for the film’s look and feel?

Interestingly enough, we chose the Director of Photography (Paul Cameron) and the Production Designer (Niels Sejer) from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” We discussed where to take the whole visual side of it. Actually, one of our inspirations was a film called “In the Mood for Love,” which is a Hong Kong film. “Dead Man Down” is a story about darkness and revenge, but we wanted to shoot it beautifully. It’s dark in its mind, but beautiful in its images.

Was making the crossover into the American film industry something you always planned to do or did it happen more naturally than that?

It has always been in my mind, even before I went to film school. I moved to the U.S. when “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” became a huge success for that purpose. But I always thought it would be nerve-wracking to shoot with a crew of 120 people instead of a family-oriented crew. But I went and did a couple of TV shows first and knew my way around. I wasn’t scared anymore about where everyone was going to park their trucks.

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